(This interview originally appeared on Healthfooddaily.com)
What did your diet used to be, and what is it now?
I made the switch to a vegetarian diet about 10 years ago. I grew up in the country where our family planted a huge vegetable garden every year, so I was never one to shy away from my veggies! That being said, I also ate a lot of meat, processed foods, refined carbohydrates and snacks. At the time I never really put very much “thought” into what I was consuming or the impacts that my choices had on other living creatures or the planet.
Currently, I would describe my diet as being “strict vegetarian with vegan tendencies”. I do not consume fish/seafood or diary milk and only small amounts of cheese, yogurt and eggs. When indulging in these animal products I choose the most ethical and local options available (organic, free-range etc). I often consume only plant-based vegan foods for days or weeks at a time. Over the years I found that this balance has worked the best for me physically, mentally and spiritually.
What made you want to change?
Sometimes big changes can happen when you least expect it. My journey to vegetarianism began in high school when I randomly picked “factory farming” as a project topic for a World Issues class. I had never heard about factory farming before nor had I ever looked at the food on my dinner plate and asked myself, “how did it get here?”. Once I began my research I was shocked and horrified how animals, beautiful living creatures, where being treated. I learned the truth and made the easy decision to abstain from eating meat and fish. I did not want to contribute to a system that made animals suffer such a harsh reality and place an equally harsh burden on our ecosystem.
How often do you train yourself for fitness, and what do you do?
I started competing in fitness competitions last summer for the want of a challenge after some knee issues prevented me from playing soccer. My training frequency and intensity is dependent on how far away my next fitness competition is. Usually I am in the gym 5-6 days a week performing a combination of cardio training and heavy weight lifting. If a competition is really close I will increase my cardio to about 45-60 minutes twice a day. During the off season I will relax to about 3-4 gym visits per week. It is important to find balance in training and what works the best for you both physically and mentally (something I am still refining). I am lucky enough to be living in a gorgeous mountain region and spend heaps of time outside snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking and camping on top of my training.
How much protein do you consume daily, and from which sources?
I eat about 100 grams of protein each day when I am training for a competition. During the off season my intake is around 70-80 grams. I get my protein from a variety of sources-protein powder mixes, quinoa, rice and beans, eggs, nuts, seeds and soy (less processed forms like edamame, tempeh, miso and tofu). Most foods have a varying degree of amino acids so in a varied diet all of these sources would add up. I think that the bodybuilding world definitely goes a little overboard with the whole “more is better” concept in regards to protein consumption.
Same question for iron?
I don’t really keep track of my iron levels anymore. When I first became vegetarian I would go get blood tests done to monitor my levels and it was never an issue for me. I think I was fooled by the popular myth that all vegetarians are in adamant danger of rampant deficiencies (which is obviously not the case at all). I eat tons of leafy greens, nuts, seeds, sea weed, algae and whole grains all of which have high levels of iron.
What are your favorite foods?
Since moving to the west coast 5 years ago I have been obsessed with vegetarian sushi. I’m salivating right now just thinking about avocado rolls and gomae! I also can’t get enough kombucha, quinoa, kale, fruit, almonds, and anything to do with coconuts. I adore cooking and spend endless hours in the kitchen creating delicious veggie meals with extra helpings of love. I have mastered making my own pizza from scratch and can whip up a mean veggie pizza pie! I would be lying if I said I didn’t crave indulgence foods like dark chocolate, cookies and sweets. And over the past two years my fascination with the raw food movement has allowed me to find healthy ways to satisfy my sweet tooth. Almost every morning I make up a bowl of oatmeal with vanilla protein powder and a whole cut up lemon for a delicious sweet and sour start to my day (nom nom)!
Were there any particular websites, books or movies that helped you in the beginning when you decided to follow a plant-based diet?
There were none in particular that I remember, although I was definitely information-hungry and devoured any book or website regarding vegetarianism/veganism. I was curious to read everything I could and try almost every recipe I could get my hands on. I learned how to cook when I made my transition to becoming a vegetarian; a transition that also ignited a life-long passion for nutrition, fitness and environmental stewardship. Currently I am really into raw food and recommend Ani’s Raw Food Essentials by Ani Phyo. Brendan Brazier is an amazing individual who has authored what I believe is the best vegan book to date (The Thrive Diet). Veganbodybuilding.com has tons of information for plant based athletes as well.
Do you participate in any community related to your diet and/or fitness practices?
Since I started competing in fitness competitions about a year ago (bikini division) I would say that I am part of the bodybuilding community. I also attend vegetarian/vegan discussions, workshops and events periodically. I think that these groups are especially important in the transition phase because it is important to surround yourself with like-minded people.